I’ve lived in Singapore for the past 13 and a half years.

Before that, when I’d visited the country from Hong Kong, where I was born, I’d fallen in love with the local food and met some wonderful people here.

I remember having yong tau foo, pandan cake and kueh. When I return to visit my parents, my suitcases are always filled with bak kwa, bak kut teh stock packets and other Singaporean treats!

In 2008, I had the opportunity to teach clinical psychology at a local private education institute. A career in a field that I enjoy and a life in a country I’ve grown to appreciate led me to setting up my own practice here in 2015.

Since I moved here (except for a month while I was sorting out living arrangements), I’ve lived in the same place and I have a fantastic landlady who takes me out for meals regularly.

Asian Family
Julia and her parents. Image source: Julia Lam

She also treated us to dinner when my mum visited. She took me out for dinner last Christmas when she knew I was unable to go back to HK due to the pandemic.

My parents from Hong Kong visit me regularly but my mum comes over more often because my dad isn’t used to the heat here. I’m a “winter” person myself (15 deg C is my optimal temperature) but I survive thanks to air-conditioning!

My mum used to visit two to three times a year, staying about a month each time. Her last visit was in Nov 2019 before the pandemic hit. Over the years, she has befriended all my neighbours and made many friends here, even on the MRT!

Life in Singapore

Life in Singapore
(From left) Linda, Julia and Grace and some of the dishes they shared. Image source: Julia Lam

At the condo where I live, I have some wonderful neighbours near and far at different blocks.

Linda, who lived next door to me on my right for seven years, would always share food with me whenever she cooked or baked.

Even after she moved out in 2015, we would meet regularly for meals, spending holidays like National Day and New Year’s Eve together for steamboat or shepherd’s pie!

Grace, who lives on my left, is another fantastic cook. From her, I’ve had hainanese chicken rice, fish porridge, fried noodles, soy sauce chicken wings, double-boiled soups, muffins and buns! We would share rice dumplings on chap goh mei (the 15th day of Chinese New Year) and had tangyuan on dongzhi (Winter Solstice).

Just like with Linda (and sometimes with her as well!) we would eat out together before Covid-19. When I fell ill after an overseas trip in 2019, Grace cooked for me and hung the food outside my door for four days. I’m so thankful to have a neighbour who takes care of me!

Grace and I both live alone. From my dining room, I can see the light in her kitchen, and vice versa. We would keep an eye on one another if the light is on or off overnight, too early or late.

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Opposite my unit live the Ongs, a family of 8. They often receive my deliveries when I am at work and I return the favour with gifts of fruit and cookies. Their dog still barks at me after so many years every time the lift door opens. It’s like having my own guard dog too!

Neighbours from further away would pop by to help out sometimes. One of them helped me fix a leaky bathroom faucet. Another helped my mum and me set up our digital TV channels. His mother-in-law, Aunty Summer, is close to my mum and often goes out with her whenever she visits me.

Once, my mum and I shared a taxi ride home from AMK Hub with a neighbour she met after we went grocery shopping. I am always amazed by the many friends my mum has made at the condo.

Occasionally, I would be stopped in my neighbourhood with people telling me: “I know your mum!” I would have no clue what they were talking about — apparently they know who I am but I do not know them, to my embarrassment.

Even now, these same neighbours would ask me to send their regards to my mum in HK when they see me, since she has not visited since the pandemic started. One of her friends who moved here from China, even treated us to dumplings and noodles (and gave us hundreds of frozen dumplings to eat).

Thanks to these neighbours, I’ve attended children’s (and grandchildren’s) birthday parties at our BBQ pit. It is fun attending these gatherings, it is interesting to know that our Indian neighbours also follow the Chinese practice of giving angpao to the birthday kids!

Even our security guards are part of the community. Last year, I gave my old electric standing fan to the guardhouse when I got a new one. Sharing is caring, especially in the hot weather!

Kindness gave me a home

Friends and Neighbours
(Clockwise from top life) Christmas party in 2017 with Mr Ong’s family; 勇嫂 , Aunty Summer and my mum; high tea at the Marriott; Aunty Summer, my mum and me. Image source: Julia Lam

As I stay alone in SG, I totally appreciate the saying “A close neighbour is better than a distant relative”.

Before I came to Singapore, I only knew one family friend from church. After 13.5 years here, I am surrounded by good friends and neighbours, as well as professional peers like psychologists, psychiatrists and lawyers. Their friendships and relationships are invaluable.

Due to Covid-19, I have not been able to meet up with many of them. Even for neighbours, these days we do not mingle much as some of them have small children and elderly at home.

I remember my parents once having a conversation many, many years ago before I came to Singapore. They were talking about visiting Singapore one day, and my mum said, “Singapore? We don’t have any relatives or even know anyone there.”

Little would they know that, thanks to all the kind people I’ve met here, Singapore has now become my second home.

Julia Lam

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